New Season Hot List 2016: What to Watch for

The latest in people, places and events—in case you missed it.

BY November 4, 2016

The much-beloved Brian Holley (left), executive director of the Naples Botanical Gardens, is leaving at year’s end. Holley, who has been at the helm since 2005, oversaw the transformation of a melaleuca-infested patch of land into the flowering wonderland that now attracts some 220,000 visitors a year. He promises he’s not going far, and we’re going to hold him to that.

Derrick Diggs, Fort Myers’ new top cop, has his work cut out for him—and then some. Diggs, the former Toledo, Ohio, chief, is the first outsider to lead the Fort Myers Police Department in 21 years. He’s inheriting a city that’s seen too much violence lately, including the 2015 Zombicon shooting that killed a 20-year-old and last summer’s mass shooting at a nightclub that claimed two teenagers and sent 18 others to the hospital.

Prepare to say goodbye to Florida Gulf Coast University Wilson Bradshaw, who has announced that he’ll retire when his contract ends in June 2017 after 10 years at the helm. Watch for news from the search committee, led by trustee Ken Smith. Finalists for the university’s fourth leader are expected to be announced this month, with a vote scheduled for December.

Florida SouthWestern State College is counting down the seconds (literally—check out its website) until the opening hoops tip-off at the new, 75,000-square-foot Suncoast Credit Union Arena. No pressure, Coach Marty Richter and Coach Kristie Ward!

Brace yourself for some major changes along Fifth Avenue as developer Phil McCabe’s plans for Fifth Avenue South take shape. McCabe has razed several businesses on the 400 block of the avenue to construct a new building that includes retail and high-end condos, in addition to a larger condo/town home complex and a 51-room hotel between Third and Fourth avenues. There is, however, a lawsuit casting uncertainty over some of those plans.

Meanwhile, in downtown Fort Myers, the old Amtel Hotel, that waterfront eyesore, is being transformed into Campo Felice, a 55-and-older rental community. The first thing you’ll notice? That god-awful pink is gone. More big development plans are in the works, including the construction of Allure, twin 32-story condominium towers along the Caloosahatchee (the sales office is at the City Pier Building); and a recently approved proposal for a Marriott Autograph Collection full-service convention center hotel—a big step for a downtown that’s seriously short on accommodations.

If you haven’t followed local news from your summer homes, you’ll be surprised to log onto and notice that Collier’s hometown paper has suddenly adopted the electronic look of its one-time rival, The News-Press. Media giant Gannett gobbled up the Journal Media Group last fall, and the changes are becoming apparent. The print editions, so far, have maintained their distinct looks, but you’ll no doubt notice the duplicate stories and mixed-up bylines as the publications figure out how to make their blended family successfully co-exist.

Environmental activists, get ready. The legislature is gearing up for action on Everglades restoration in the wake of a disastrous year of unprecedented winter rains that threw the entire Everglades ecosystem into a tailspin. Southwest Florida fishing guides suffered cancellations, algae blooms wrecked summer beach trips, and Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the mess. Everglades restoration—and Lake Okeechobee releases—promise to be a hot topic this legislative session; already, incoming Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart is floating a proposal to buy 60,000 acres of land near the lake for water storage.

Let’s play ball! Maybe. The Atlanta Braves have knocked on Collier County’s door in its hunt for a new spring training location. The team’s lease in Orlando ends next year. The first go-round didn’t go so well, but the team is continuing to press county officials to take another look.

We bet some area signage threw you for a loop. Lee Memorial Health System is marking its 100th anniversary this fall with a rebirth of sorts, a name change to Lee Health. The system will celebrate another milestone this spring—the opening of the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, a cause many of you have no doubt contributed to through the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest and other endeavors.

All those who love to visit Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park but loathe the haphazard, side-of-the-road parking conditions will rejoice to see a new turn lane and parking lot at the boardwalk entrance. It’s the first phase of a major enhancement project spearheaded by the Friends of Fakahatchee, a hardworking group of volunteers that helps the park’s shoestring staff protect 85,000 acres of botanical wonderland.


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